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Andre Lopez on Tasting Night

Andre Lopez on Tasting Night

Susan (looking shy) and Andre's Mother

When I was much younger, the only decent wine shop in Hawaii was R. Field in Ward Centre and most of the selections at the local supermarkets were pretty abysmal.  Fast forward 20 years and Hawaii’s wine retail scene has become infinitely better with many decent wine shops and wine bars – even the new Safeway on Kapahulu Ave. has a huge (slightly overpriced) wine section.  I have been to just about all but I think one of these wine establishments on Oahu and my favorite place so far is The People’s Wine Shop on S. King St, just past the vacuum specialist shop on the corner of Pensacola and S. King St. (near Kaiser) in the King Street Apartment Hotel (ample parking on the street and in the back).  As soon as you see the vacuum shop, you have to slow down because there is no awning displaying the shop’s name but there is there is a simple bright neon sign that let’s you know where the shop is.

If any of you are familiar at all with Berkeley, California, The People’s Wine Shop reminds me a bit of Vintage Berkeley (around the corner from Chez Panisse) because of the small size, personalized service and interesting selections.  But The People’s Wine Shop has more of a welcoming feeling and I wonder if that has to do with the fact that it’s painted a warmer color or whether there is a lot of aloha spirit there.

I first met Andre at a trade wine tasting event at the Hilton sometime late last year and although we didn’t really talk to each other, I recognized him because we were often at the same tables tasting wines.  It wasn’t until I went to his shop that I realized that he was the owner!  I knew I’d like his shop because we must have had similar tastes to be at the same vendors.

The store, which opened in 2006, is run by Andre and Susan (who are always there with a smile) and his Friday and Saturday night free tastings are becoming very popular with local wine lovers.  He features a different winery/producer/supplier every week and gives a discount on the featured wine as well.  I love that he has harder to find wines from all over the world and with a really great Spanish and Italian section and best of all, the wines he brings in won’t break your bank!  Andre stocks more premium “collector” wines as well but he prides himself on making wines approachable to everyone.  I love the anti-snob quality there and because they’re so warm and friendly, they already have a big following of regular customers.  I have run into people I know there and nearly everyone who comes on tasting nights seem to be known by name.  Recently when I stopped by, he was tasting Mondavi wines to pay tribute to Robert Mondavi, shortly after his passing and that definitely touched me since I feel so connected to that place.

I wished this shop was around when I got married because it would’ve been great to purchase wine from him but alas, I bought it from another shop who barely gave me a smile.  Whether you are a wine geek or wine novice, Andre’s shop is a great stop to buy some interesting wines in Hawaii.

**If you are a tourist and have a rental car, this shop is only about 4 miles away – which should take about 20 minutes (depending on traffic) from most Waikiki hotels.

**UPDATE: This store has closed its doors.** 😦

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Robert, Margrit & Tim Mondavi with Employees (me holding the teddy bear), October 2004

Cliff May Designed this Mission Style Winery

Robert Mondavi Winery in Autumn

Christmas Party 2004

From the Napa Valley Vintners website:

On May 16, we lost an extraordinary leader in the world of wine, legendary American vintner Robert Mondavi.

One of the many important lessons Mr. Mondavi taught us was to always be there to help a neighbor, a friend, our community or beyond. He was one of the most kind and generous people we’ve ever known. One of the original founders of both the Napa Valley Vintners non-profit trade organization in 1944 and its community fundraiser, Auction Napa Valley, in 1981, Mr. Mondavi set the standard by which all Napa Valley vintners strive to operate: making wines that are among the best in the world and using their resultant status to raise money to support charitable causes.

We are all beneficiaries of Robert Mondavi’s vision, his generosity, his warmth of spirit and his joy for life, and in tribute, we invite wine lovers from anywhere in the world to share a remembrance of the man and his accomplishments as a vintner, a Napa Valley ambassador, a supporter of his community, a patron of the arts and a friend to many.

Before I left the house to catch a flight Saturday morning (Australian time), I saw a headline from Wine Spectator online that Robert Mondavi had passed away. Although it is true what James Laube said, that “we knew this was coming” (due to his ailing health), it was still very sad news for me (and countless others) to read that he had died. He was 94 years old, just a month shy of his 95th birthday. Like many people who have left comments on the various news and wine industry websites online, I have a lot nice things to say about the man that I didn’t really know very well but who influenced me greatly in my career and how I look at work.

I first met him at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco for the signing of his autobiographical book, “Harvests of Joy” in 1998. He spoke of his life and experiences and I remember being impacted by his passion and his belief that anything can be accomplished with hard work and conviction. Years later, I was a student at UC Davis where I took an Introduction to Winemaking class. It was then (particularly during the history of California wine) that I realized just how important and instrumental Mr. Mondavi was putting the Napa Valley on the map. As it happened, the Robert Mondavi Winery was hiring summer wine educators and I immediately jumped at the chance. The day I got the job was one of the best days of my life and I never took the job for granted for the nearly three years that I worked there. I even drove three to four hours a day from my Sacramento home to work in Oakville.

Margrit and Bob Mondavi was not only generous through their philanthropy (Copia, UC Davis & Oxbow School) but also opening their home to Visitor Center employees with both an Easter and Christmas lunch. They allowed us to walk around in their home as if we were all one huge family. He would always kiss ladies on both cheeks whenever we said hello and preferred us to call him Bob. I will never forget how I broke down in tears as I started my very last tour under that famous arch knowing how much I would miss the place.

I have been thinking about what to say in this blog for days and I do not have enough words to express everything that I feel. Working for the Robert Mondavi Winery was an experience that I now use as the benchmark for job excellence. In my experience, it was the only place of employment where everyone truly respected and was in awe of the founder. He was a tireless and passionate crusader of California wine with an amazingly huge heart and I and countless other former colleagues who have written tributes, are so blessed to have been part of sharing his passion. My sincere condolences go to his family.

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